The Occupation of Childhood

Happy child with painted hands

Play is the most important activity in the lives of children.
Sometimes it seems more important than eating and sleeping.
Sometimes play is easy and fun.
Sometimes play is trying hard to do something right.
Play is the work, the occupation of childhood.
L.S. Lagoni

The ‘occupation of childhood’ is just as important to adults, but most of us have lost that knowledge in responsibility, ‘real work’, worry and generally being grownups. It’s been more than a decade since I had playtime regularly with my son as he grew up. I had nearly forgotten the joy of playing and how healthy it is.

Scoff at the thought of playing with finger paint, coloring in a coloring book or making a collage from magazine cut-outs for no particular purpose if you want. You don’t know what you’re missing. A unique and artistic friend and I got together for ‘playtime’ yesterday. We had planned to make collages for a couple of months, but our adult lives gave us excuses to kept it from happening.

We warmed up with finger paints and then moved on to the serious business of cutting pieces that moved us from magazines for our collages. It was interesting that the longer we did that, the quieter we became; each intently focused on finding just the right things to cut out. As we were scissoring stuff from the pages, each was understood completely in the moment by the other. Without speaking hardly a word it was clear between she and I that what we were doing was not just for children. This was serious and meaningful business for grownups: PLAY! We were doing the simple, enjoying the uncomplicated while being completely at home with each other and enjoying the ‘Now’. How very cool!

Play is simultaneously a source of relaxation and stimulation for the brain and body. A sure (and fun) way to develop your imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and mental health is to play with your romantic partner, office-mates, children, grandchildren, and friends.

Play is often described as a time when we feel most alive, yet we often take it for granted and may completely forget about it. But play isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. Play is as important to our physical and mental health as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Play teaches us how to manage and transform our “negative” emotions and experiences. It supercharges learning, helps us relieve stress, and connects us to others and the world around us. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable.

Despite the power of play, somewhere between childhood and adulthood, many of us stop playing. We exchange play for work and responsibilities. When we do have some leisure time, we’re more likely to zone out in front of the TV or computer than to engage in creative, brain-stimulating play. By giving ourselves permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, we can continue to reap its benefits throughout life.

Thanks for the play-day K.! It was big fun and the positive effects are still bouncing within now a day later. My collage (below) is still hanging up in the kitchen. I still don’t have a clue what it means, but know what I randomly chose and glued down speaks from my heart and soul. Maybe it all has no meaning except I was able to feel contented like a child. And that’s a huge gift. How wonderful to feel seven years-old again!

What do most Nobel Laureates, innovative entrepreneurs, artists
and performers, well-adjusted children, happy couples and families,
and the most successfully adapted mammals have in common?
They play enthusiastically throughout their lives.
Stuart Brown